RCMP agrees to cash settlements in sexual harassment, discrimination suit
The RCMP has agreed to a settlement of a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment within its ranks.
The federal class-action suit alleges municipal employees, contractors and volunteers who either worked with or were supervised by the RCMP experienced gender- and sexual orientation-based harassment and discrimination while working for the force.
The RCMP has not admitted liability but has agreed to a the settlement, which was certified in federal court last week.
Those who qualify will receive compensation ranging from $10,000 to $220,000.
“The settlement provides for a safe, confidential and independent claims process led by female assessors,” said Angela Bespflug, with Klein Lawyers, and counsel for two out of the three plaintiffs, including lead plaintiff Cheryl Tiller.
Tiller, who currently works in victims’ services for a non-profit that serves 10 RCMP detachments and eight First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, says she was sexually harassed by an RCMP officer at a retirement party in 2007.
“It’s an extremely emotional day,” Tiller told CTV News by phone from Yorkton, Sask.
“I feel brave and courageous because I think this is going to allow other women the opportunity, and hopefully give them the courage to come forward and tell their story, and help them start the healing journey,” Tiller said.
Bespflug says she estimates 1,500 women will come forward, and that because claims aren’t capped, the settlement could top $100 million in payouts.
Those entitled to the lowest level of compensation include those who experienced sexualized comments, jokes and questions. Examples listed online also include exhibitionism, bullying causing psychological harm, "mockery by various means" and communication of a sexual nature. Effects under "level one" include humiliation, loss of self-esteem and occasional panic attacks.
Cases considered most severe include those who've experienced post-traumatic stress, personality problems, suicidal thoughts or attempts and substance abuse, following conduct including intimidation, sexual assault and acts meant to affect career development. A full schedule of compensation levels has been posted on the law firm's website.
Mounties confirmed the settlement in a post on the RCMP website, and explained that the plaintiffs were not RCMP employees but had been working with the force on its premises.
"As an organization, we are accountable for our actions and continue to expand on the measures we've put in place to address conflict and inappropriate behavior in the workplace," Brenda Lucki, the RCMP’s first permanent female commissioner, wrote.
"We've set up a centralized office to co-ordinate harassment complaints, and continue to encourage anyone who feels they are a victim of inappropriate behavior to report it."
She wrote there are now permanent resources in place focusing on gender equity, diversity and inclusion.
"Harassment and discrimination do not have a place in our organization… I deeply regret that these women were subject to inappropriate behavior in our workplace, and apologize for the pain caused to them and their families," she said.
Tiller called Lucki’s apology “sincere.”
Former Mountie Sherry Benson-Podolchuk, who said she experienced repeated harassment and bullying, and wrote a book about her two-decade career with the RCMP, called the settlement another “baby step forward.”
“You can’t heal an organization if it’s wounded from the inside,” Benson-Podolchuk said. “Even if it happened 30 years ago, to the victim it happened yesterday. They never get over that. Their scars remind them every day what happened. But they don’t have to define their future.”
Monday’s announcement is the second major class-action settlement the RCMP has reached when it comes to gender-based discrimination and harassment. In 2016, then-commissioner Bob Paulson apologized to female mounties saying the RCMP had “failed” and “hurt” them.
The new settlement covers those in non-policing roles over the last 45 years. Tiller’s lawyer said most of those women will be in British Columbia and Alberta.
The suit includes current and former living municipal employees, regional district employees, supernumerary special constables, consultants, contractors, public service employees and students, Klein Lawyers says. It also includes "members of integrated policing units and persons from outside agencies and police forces who are female or publicly identify as female and who were supervised or managed by the RCMP or who worked in an RCMP controlled workplace during the Class Period," a news release says.
While employees and volunteers are considered primary class members, children and spouses may also qualify if their primary class family member's claim is assessed at the two highest severity levels, the firm says.
Those who aren't sure if they qualify can fill in a form on Klein Lawyers' website, and someone will contact them with more information.
A motion to formally approve the settlement is scheduled to be heard at the federal court in Vancouver on Oct. 17. If approved, a notice will be published explaining how to submit a claim.
Cheryl Tiller said she would offer to speak personally to any woman who was uncertain about coming forward.
“I didn’t think I could, but here I am 12 years later. And I’m standing up and saying this isn’t right.” Tiller said.